THEY are both of the post-Merdeka generation, as passionate about their country as they are about their politics, but they seem to have quite different takes on the country's history.
The argument between Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin and DAP international secretary Ronnie Liu on the true fighters in the struggle for Malaysia's independence has taken on an intensity that has surprised those watching it.
It began with a media statement by Liu posted on the DAP website last Saturday.
Entitled The Real Fighters for Merdeka, Liu had begun the article rather provocatively with the claim that Umno leaders had not been the real fighters for independence. He went on to name a host of left-oriented figures, including Malay leftists, as the “freedom fighters”.
He wrote that Umno leaders, including Tunku Abdul Rahman, had not put up real sacrifice in the Merdeka struggle but were “senior servants of the British government”.
It was an opinion that Umno Youth was not going to let pass without a fight, and the wing's rising star, Khairy, promptly rebutted Liu for trying to rewrite history.
He also blasted the DAP politician for denigrating the role that Umno leaders had played in the Merdeka history.
Worse, Liu was seen as projecting the communist Chin Peng as one of the freedom fighters.
Chin Peng's memoirs, My Side of History, has been a best-seller but it has also open up old wounds and evoked buried memories among many Malays of violence, untimely deaths, cruel injuries and thousands of families being resettled in Chinese new villages.
This is perhaps the sensitivity that many groups tend to overlook when they re-examine history.
Very few Malay families do not have a kin, close or distant, who was in the police or armed forces during the emergency and that brought the violence of the era very close to home.
Then there is the religious factor. Communism with its notion of godlessness was and still is very alien to the Muslims.
Even Prof Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, one of the country's foremost intellectuals, spent his childhood seeing the Emergency years as a conflict that pitted Malay soldiers against Chinese communists.
“It was a case of government forces versus the insurgents. The government forces were almost entirely Malay and the insurgents were mostly Chinese. That was how simple, ignorant Malay families like my own grandmother looked at the Emergency,” he said.
Prof Shamsul, who is director of the Institute of the Malay World and Civilisation, lost an uncle who had fought on the government side in Jelebu, Negri Sembilan.
In his grandmother's worldview, that is, at the grassroots level, the Chinese communists killed her son.
The Emergency years, he noted, saw race relations in the country become violent and bloody on a big scale for the first time in history.
“The wounds have not healed properly. The Emergency had consequences beyond what Chin Peng could imagine,” said Prof Shamsul.
And that is what colours much of the debate on that period of history.
On the dispute between Umno Youth and DAP, Prof Shamsul said every group had its own image of what Malaysia could be or what he calls their own “nation of intent”.
PAS has its Islamic state. The early Malay left envisaged the Melayu Raya, and the DAP and its former Singapore compatriots advocated the Malaysian Malaysia concept.
The Communist Party of Malaya had its own notion of what Malaysia should be and it was diametrically opposed to that of Umno's and the Alliance coalition.
“They were coming from different angles. They were fighting for their own nations of intent,” he added.
There is undeniably a great deal of political upmanship in the Umno Youth-DAP argument, but Khairy is right to defend his party's legacy. Likewise, Liu has the right to his point of view.
Still, one cannot help but note that the DAP only began championing the Tunku in a big way after he retired. They had called him all manner of names when he was in power.
But to take Prof Shamsul's rational explanation a little further, those who are now trying to advocate the leftists in the independence struggle ought to remember that the left was advocating a very different form of independence from that won by the centrists and right-of-centre groups.
Had the struggle gone the way of the left, the country would have been a little communist state with, perhaps, its own mini Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward.
Now that would have been scary.
In that sense, Khairy has a point when he defends Umno leaders as the precursors of the country's Merdeka. Umno was part of the triumvirate of Malay, Chinese and Indian political advocates who ushered in the political entity that we have today.
Related Story:Umno Youth wants DAP to purge article
Did you find this article insightful?